We caught up with Jeff Broadway, the mastermind behind the Stones Throw documentary ‘Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton,’ where he discusses the process that went into telling the story of one of the most important record labels in the world.
Filmmaker Jeff Broadway certainly had no easy task. Faced with an overwhelming roster of talent and seemingly enough archival footage to make an hour-long profile on each musical act, Broadway’s real achievement is presenting a digestible music documentary that is peppered with both the perfect amount of exposition as well as a contemporary narrative. Pulling together the likes of Kanye West, Common, Questlove, Talib Kweli, Mike D and others, Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton is a voyeuristic romp inside the inner circle of avant-garde label Stones Throw. We caught up with Broadway to discuss the origins of the film, head honcho Peanut Butter Wolf and the thematic undertones that resonate throughout.
You assembled quite an ensemble of artists and music aficionados to participate who collectively have sold probably hundreds of millions of records. How hard was it to achieve this? What do you think it is about Stones Throw that made them want to get involved?
The process of going out to artists to participate in the film was relatively straightforward. Wolf generously opened up the rolodex to me and really got behind my production from day one. He and I identified key voices we felt we needed to include in the film to provide the context Stones Throw, as a subject, deserved. We started with the foundation – the Stones Throw family – and then looked to open up the conversation to the ways in which the label and its artists have been so quietly influential over the mainstream for nearly two decades. Naturally, that gave way to guys like Questlove, Common, Kanye, Mike D – all of whom hold the movement, and those who have chiefly comprised it, near and dear. When I approached them about interviewing for the film, they were all immediately down.
Charizma is someone whose story isn’t as well known. How important was it to begin the film depicting he and Wolf’s relationship?
Charizma is paramount to the lore of Stones Throw. After his death, his and Wolf’s deal with Hollywood Basics went awry and Wolf started shopping the project around to different labels. It got slept on and record exec after record exec passed on the album. Frustrated, Wolf decided to just create a vehicle himself to get the music out. Thus, Stones Throw Records was born. It’s a beautiful origin story given what we know now, and Big Shots has really stood the test of time.
Do you get the impression that Stones Throw would have been formed had Wolf been able to release he and Charizma’s music on a different label?
I don’t know. Wolf’s an unpredictable cat. It’s entirely possible he would have decided to start his own label had he never met Charizma, but it certainly wouldn’t have borne the Stones Throw name. The label’s name pays homage to an old inside joke the two shared.
Questlove is quoted in the film as saying, “smaller movements make for a bigger and better culture.” Do you think this is what you were trying to achieve as a filmmaker from a thematic standpoint?
Absolutely. In Stones Throw, the film examines a collective of artists outside what society identifies as “the mainstream,” and a conversation is then had about why it’s mattered and how it’s impacted a wider, more popular culture we find ourselves immersed in today. To the masses, guys like Wolf, J Dilla and Madlib are complete unknowns; but the masses don’t do their homework. They herd.
Dam-Funk describes working a bunch of different jobs like delivering tools and driving trucks prior to signing with Stones Throw. Homeboy Sandman was a public school teacher. Vex Ruffin worked at UPS. Do you think many of these artists would have abandoned music all together without Stones Throw?
Stones Throw has been home to many, what I call, citizen musicians. That’s one of the dopest things about the label. And even if dudes like Dam, Sand and Vex were never signed, no – I don’t believe any of them would have stopped making music. With or without Stones Throw (or any other label), I guarantee you Dam would have continued his lifelong quest of representing the citizens of the Funkmosphere as Ambassador of Boogie Funk, to the best of his ability. No doubt.
“To the masses, guys like Wolf, J Dilla and Madlib are complete unknowns; but the masses don’t do their homework. They herd.”
Peanut Butter Wolf said that he enjoys starting people’s careers. Do you think there’s a piece of him that would like to see these artists careers begin and end under the label’s banner?
Of course. No manager wants to stay in AAA his whole career. That said, I don’t think that’s where Wolf exists as a label boss. Though he founded the label, musically speaking, Stones Throw is really the house that Madlib built. And Madlib is still releasing music under the Stones Throw banner. He’s a special type of musician – we all know that – and Wolf has allowed him the creative freedom to do whatever he wants. Now Madlib isn’t necessarily famous, by traditional standards, but I don’t believe he or Wolf measures success by fame.
Can you touch on the roles of Jeff Jank and Egon at Stones Throw?
Jeff Jank is the Creative Director at Stones Throw – has been since the beginning. Egon was the original General Manger of the label – left a couple years back. Neither of them wanted to be in the film. I’ll leave that can of worms unopened.
Do you think Jaylib and Madvillain could have existed anywhere else?
I don’t know. Probably. I think there were other labels in the early 2000s that would have been happy to put out (what are now classic) collaborations like Jaylib and Madvillain. What I don’t think any other label could have done is create an entirely different world for those projects to exist in. As a guy who approaches film from a very musically-inspired place, the visual components Stones Throw created to support those releases were unlike anything else. That aesthetic has been very informative to my personal style.
You get the sense that Wolf and DOOM bonded over lost loved ones. Did you get that sense?
Definitely. Wolf and DOOM clearly connected through shared experiences of loss. They also both seem to have experienced similar trajectories in dealing with tragedy and reemerging stronger than ever.
There’s a really poignant moment in the film where Dilla gets on stage in a wheelchair that seems to drive home the point that to these artists, music is life. Would you agree?
I do agree. Wolf often remarks he has no idea what he would do if he didn’t have Stones Throw. According to Madlib, he spends around 20 hours per day in his studio when he’s in LA. His output, as we know, is just insane. These guys live and breathe their craft. It’s unwavering and totally pure.
Wolf closes the film by saying that “in thirty years I want to see Stones Throw records in either the 100 dollar bin or the 99 cent bin.” How do you think this speaks to his ethos in general?
He’s a love it or hate it dude. He lives his life that way. Rob Bralver (editor of the film) and I really felt like that line best embodied his, and by extension, Stones Throw’s ethos. Thankfully for him and the label, there have been enough people who love what he’s contributed to music and that the label’s still alive and kickin’. From 96 ’til infinity, Wolf.